Trying to understand an improbable race bike that wasn’t meant to race in an equally improbable, but highly popular, race series.
No doubt about it: Over the years I’ve been invited to track test a vast array of different road racers, from literally dozens of factory MotoGP and 500GP bikes, through countless World Superbike contenders, to numerous ProTwin muscle bikes, either home-brewed or factory built. But nothing — literally, nothing! — I’ve ever ridden until now compares in terms of its sheer improbability coupled with its mammoth size, hefty weight and downright belligerence to the factory Indian Challenger, on which Tyler O’Hara regained the MotoAmerica King of the Baggers (KotB) crown for the Minnesota company from its Harley-Davidson rival in 2022, and in doing so reignited the century-plus on-track warfare between America’s two leading manufacturers.
Indian vs. Harley is the oldest brand rivalry in motorcycle sport. After Harley-Davidson finally went racing properly in 1917, the feud blazed into life over the next four decades, then remained dormant for several more after Indian’s corporate demise the first time around, in 1953.
Until now, hostilities were confined to doing it on the dirt — or on the Murderdrome board tracks of last century’s nineteen-teens. But after Indian was purchased in 2011 by Polaris Corp. and relaunched as a major manufacturer, it returned to America’s dirt oval racetracks in 2016 with the FTR750, which has since made the American Flat Track (AFT) series its own in a comparable way to Harley’s previous four decades of dirt track dominance with the XR750.
But in the past three years, that rivalry has been extended to what used to be called pavement racing, as America’s two oldest bike brands have fought each other to earn bragging rights to road racing’s King of the Baggers crown, in the ultra-improbable but potentially very lucrative pursuit of going racing with tuned-up versions of their best-selling V-twin streetbikes supplied new with twin chassis-mounted luggage bags, and a fairing.
Unlikely Race Series
So, it’s war again — but not as we ever knew it before, because this time around the fact that each company’s weapons are directly derived from its streetbike range, means the old “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” mantra has been reborn, but in a most unlikely context. As in: Bagger racing?!
After a debut KotB exhibition race at Laguna Seca in 2020 was won by Tyler O’Hara aboard Indian’s then-new Challenger model, MotoAmerica staged a three-race series as part of its 2021 American Superbike race program. This was dominated by Harley-Davidson’s official Screamin’ Eagle Race Team’s Kyle Wyman, who wrapped up the championship with two wins and a second-place finish on the factory-run Road Glide Special, with Indian’s O’Hara…